Promote Your Law Practice on Social Media Without Advertising

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social media ethicsLawyers who use social media as part of their online marketing campaign probably realize that one of the main benefits of this method of promotion is having a channel that can be used to grow an audience of actively engaged followers over time. You don’t hear many attorneys raving about the immediate boost in referral business from their social media efforts. But, considering how many people stay logged in to one or more of their social media accounts day and night, it makes sense to post regular updates to your law office’s social media pages.

But note, the privilege of marketing online comes with heavy responsibilitynot the least of which is the professional kind. Most attorneys understand that posting online communications may subject them to their respective state bars’ rules of professional responsibility governing advertising. Less well known are the types of online posts that are considered advertising, and possibly subject to a rule requiring inclusion of a disclaimer (such as the word “Advertisement”).

In California, for example, the Rules of Professional Conduct governing attorney advertising apply when an attorney communicates a message “concerning the availability for professional employment.”

Application of the rules is especially important in the social media setting, because there, attorneys are likely to post regular updates. In fact, when you log into your Facebook business page, you see an empty box that says “write something.”

It is for this reason that attorneys who post messages online, especially on social media, should learn when their posts are presumed to be advertisement. Ideally, a law office’s social media page should not be filled with posts that contain advertisement disclaimers.

This post will answer the online marketing riddle of how an attorney can promote their law practice without advertising.

It’s Time for a Different Mindset

Complying with the rules governing attorney advertising may be more advantageous than once thought. Sure, the most important objective for attorneys wishing to comply with the professional rules is not to be pinned with an allegation of misconduct. But compliance does not have to mean turning the dial down on the social media segment of your marketing campaign. Compliance can begin with gaining a clearer understanding of permissible marketing conduct. This creates freedom. When you know what you can and cannot do, you are more likely to act like yourself. And that is when you will be the best promoter that you can be for your business.

It’s not unthinkable for an attorney to advertise their professional services on social media. It’s just not considered a best practice. At best, it’s a misplaced marketing tactic.

Examples of Online Posts That Are Presumed to Be Advertisements

Josh King’s recent post and webinar on Lawyernomics discussed a State Bar of California advisory opinion which provides concise examples of when attorneys’ posts on social media sites are subject to the rules of ethics governing advertising in California. My take: a lot of what lawyers post on social media is subject to the rules. Let’s look at two examples from the advisory opinion of common messages posted by lawyers on social media.

Example 1: “Won a million dollar verdict. Tell your friends and check out my website.”

The State Bar does not consider the statement about the verdict to be an advertisement, but when attorneys tell others to view their website they are indicating that they are looking for business. Thus, if an attorney’s post on social media contains the message to view their website, the State Bar of California views it as an advertisement, and so, it “must contain the word Advertisement or a similar word…”

The attorney’s statement in the above example could be changed quite easily to avoid the disclaimer requirement. The statement would be just as effective as a marketing tool if the call to action was omitted. That is, the statement alone that the attorney won a giant verdict is promotion enough—and it’s not advertising.

Example 2: “Won another personal injury case. Call me for a free consultation.”

The first sentence is not an advertisement under the rule. But the second sentence of the post does qualify as an advertisement, even though the attorney who posts this statement is offering a free service. Inviting a free consultation highlights professional availability. As such, the attorney must include an advertisement disclaimer to satisfy the rule.

Another interesting requirement in California that applies to the statements in both of the posts above is Rule 1-400(F), the “preservation requirement.” This rule includes the requirement that attorneys must maintain copies of any messages posted online which express the availability of professional employment. Check your state bar for a similar preservation requirement.

Conclusion

Attorneys who see the value of using social media as part of a long-term marketing campaign can feel comfortable with promoting their knowledge, opinions, and experiences without constantly including a call to action in their posts (i.e., advertising).

With so much competition in the attorney marketplace, one of the most important objectives is reaching your target audience and maintaining engagement. You can achieve this without running afoul of your state bar’s professional rules by actively providing important updates to your social media accounts, such as descriptions about recent case victories, insight on legal topics, or opinions about everyday matters that involve legal issues. In this way, you will be actively promoting yourself to your audience in a socially and ethically unobjectionable manner.

Jacob Regar Law’s Website